Feb. 21—It may be icy cold outside, but two real estate agents said Mercer County's home sales are red hot — if you can even find one for sale in the preferred price range.
"I've been in real estate since 1990, and I've never seen the local market like it is now," said Realtor Nancy Schlegel, branch manager for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices' Hermitage and Greenville offices.
Mercer County homes listed for sale are now running an average price of $129,000, according to the Greater Mercer County Board of Realtors.
To be sure, say local real estate agents, that's just the asking price. It doesn't mean that's the actual price paid for a home.
But that figure falls within the $125,000 to $200,000 price tag for homes that are in high demand, local agents said.
"Normally I have 20 to 30 homes selling for those prices," Pamela Hrabosky, an associate broker for Howard Hanna Real Estate Services. "Now I only have two."
Sales are so brisk she regularly advises buyers not to low-ball their bids.
"The homes are selling so quickly there isn't a chance to offer an open house on some of them," Hrabosky said.
There's no question this is a seller's market, Schlegel said.
"If a house is on the market now more than a month, then there's something going on," Schlegel said. "It usually tells me there's something wrong with its condition, price or location."
A $125,000 home in Mercer County will get you a three-bedroom home, 2 to 2 1/2 bathrooms and maybe a finished basement. As with all real estate deals, location can dramatically change costs.
"Good luck getting a home with all of that in Hermitage for $125,000," Hrabosky said. "If you do get one for that price, it means it needs work."
Along with price, the home's style can create even more shortages.
"Young buyers don't care about two-story homes," Hrabosky said. "Ranch homes are selling like hot cakes."
And a scant number of homes for sale in the targeted price range has fueled prices.
"I would say over the past year local home prices have gone up 15 percent," Schlegel said.
Local homes with a fair $300,000 sticker price, in a snazzy development, with three or four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and a good-sized lot are pounced on, she said.
"Those are usually on the market for less than a week," Schlegel said. "They go real quick."
For many local Realtors this is new territory. Home values took a dive in the early 1980s as one local industrial giant after another slammed its doors, such as Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Sharon and Chicago Bridge and Iron in Greenville, home values dived. This created a glut of houses for sale hitting at the same time when many lost their jobs or moved away. The market improved — but it was nothing like it is today.
So what's changed? A combination of factors, the two real estate agents said.
Mortgage loans are out there running a little over 2 percent — a historically low rate. And the COVID-19 pandemic has rocked possible sellers.
"People want to be careful, so they're staying in the home they're in for now," Schlegel said.
Also, the pandemic crushed home sales in Pennsylvania. In mid-March real estate agents were forbidden to conduct any in-person work. Home showings and open houses ground to a halt. That created pent-up demand.
When real estate agents were allowed back into homes in May, sales skyrocketed.
"The phone rang off the hook," Hrabosky said. "People were desperate."
Schlegel said she had the same experience.
She said the offices in Hermitage and Greenville were near the top in unit sales nationally last year among the more than 1,300 offices Berkshire Hathaway has nationwide.
Another national trend also is at work. People are fleeing congested big cities and pricey suburbs.
In the Pittsburgh suburbs of Wexford and Cranberry Township, where homes are in heavy demand, the average price range is $500,000 to $600,000, Schlegel said.
"You can get that type of home here for $300,000 and pay less taxes," she said.
What's more, the pandemic has shown employers and employees that workers don't have to be in an office all day. Telecommuting has opened up the local housing market to many.
Both women agree Mercer County has another key attraction — itself.
"We have a slower pace of lifestyle here with great parks and lots to do outside," Hrabosky said. "We have a lot of things you can't get elsewhere."